The Civil Wars – album review
There are few bands that I make time to sit down, with headphones, and listen to the whole of a new record from start to finish… but The Civil Wars are one of them, and I am very glad I did. From the opening track of this sophomore self-titled LP, I knew this was going to be a pretty heart-breaking record.
The One That Got Away is a lush and powerful song, which builds and builds throughout to a wonderful crescendo. I was left a little out of sorts after listening to it! But the duo don’t allow any time to regroup as I Had Me A Girl soars up through the wires of the headphones and fills my ears with a raw crunching guitar, beautiful harmonies and a tune that could sit anywhere on the soundtrack of “O Brother Where Art Thou?”. This just shows the diversity of Civil Wars, who are able to take distorted blues guitars, mix them with country melodies and produce a pounding, gritty, three-and-a-half minute love song (with the help of Rick Rubin). As the album progresses, we get treated to some softer, more stripped-back songs. Same Old Same Old is reminiscent of some early Reba McEntire, with tinges of Gillian Welch, whereas Dust To Dust is truly unique in its composition – a track you can only expect to find placed in the middle of a Civil Wars record.
The album is full of heartbreak, loss, anger, disappointment – and it’s a tragedy that this will be the last we hear from The Civil Wars as we know them. For a band who have only been around for a few years, they have made an incredible impact on the music scene. Their debut album Barton Hollow is now certified Gold in the US – and I can’t help thinking this record will reach similar heights. In many ways it’s even better than their first, it explores more horizons, offers more of a variety of songs and leaves you wanting more (it is not a long album, weighing in at just 43 minutes and 27 seconds). The record is an emotional journey from start to finish, rising and falling like a wave after a storm. Joy and John’s vocals are sublime and effortless all the way through – with standout performances from Joy on Tell Mama and Sacred Heart. John comes into his own on D’Arline – a strange muddy recording, with a haunting quality – that feels like a parting embrace, it feels like the end, and indeed it is. This closes the album.
I’ve no doubt I’ll go back to this record again and again. This certainly marks the end of something pretty special, and if there is one album you listen to from Nashville this year, make it The Civil Wars – you will not be disappointed.
Review by Joe Haddow